For the second project in my publication class, I’ve been working on an article about body image and bikini season. I interviewed several amazing women after sending out a virtual call for help via Facebook, and their answers were incredibly powerful. Some laughed in the face of society’s expectations of what a bikini-ready body “should” look like, while others felt the pressure of those same expectations. One thing they all had in common? They acknowledged that those expectations exist, that they’re impossible for anyone to meet (no matter how thin or toned or tan), and that they need to be changed.
Over the course of my research for this project, I was reminded that the point of a day at the beach or pool isn’t to be on display as if the sand has suddenly become a runway– the point of spending time in the sun and by the water is to have fun! This is so easy for myself and many others I know to forget, because it can feel as if the need to look “hot” and cater to that bikini body expectation is more important than anything else. Who am I to feel comfortable with my body, even if I don’t have washboard abs or a perfectly trimmed bikini line? Who am I to embrace my fair complexion and stretch-marked hips? Who am I to step outside the bikini body box and kick it to the side?
To be honest, the thought of wearing a bikini is one of the most terrifying parts of summer for me. I generally consider myself to be pretty comfortable with myself, mostly because I have other traits that I value far more– my compassion, my intelligence, my passion for writing, my humor. Well, not to point out the obvious, but you can’t exactly show off your compassion and intelligence when you’re baring it all in a bikini. At least not last time I checked. Listening to the testimonies of women of vastly different — and all beautiful — body types challenged me to look at the way I view my own bikini experience, and share my own thoughts on what it means to be “bikini ready.”
I became much more aware of my own insecurities when it comes to bikini season as I conducted my interviews, but I recognized from the multitude of voices I consulted that these are not unique to me. So, I decided I would be as honest as possible with the body that bares it all every summer, from my obsession with my non-washboard stomach to my acceptance that my body is not perfect, but it does its job just fine. My body-confidence journey is an ongoing one, but I’ve found that with time it’s become easier to ignore the voice that points out my imperfections as flaws and listen to the one that points them out as things that make me, me.
Dear Bikini Body,
Alright, let’s get this out of the way right now: your stomach is sticking out more than normal (note to self: small lunches before a day at the beach), your abs are all but nonexistent (note to self: start Pilates again and stick with it this time), your skin is so pale it’s practically reflective (note to self: more sunscreen), your bikini line has razor burn (note to self: consider waxing), and basically, you suck. We shouldn’t have looked at that Victoria’s Secret catalog last night, because seriously, how do those women manage have curvier hips than me and flatter stomachs??
Yes, I know there’s probably some Photoshop involved. Yes, I know that having a curve to my stomach is “normal.” Yes, I know that our weight is in the “healthy” zone for our height. Yes, I know that even if we had a flat stomach, washboard abs, tan skin, and pristine bikini line there would still be things I would want to change. It doesn’t make the feeling that you are not good enough to wear this bikini go away.
I wish I could just think to myself “who the heck cares” and stop being so hard on you, because I know I am. It’s not your fault that the levels of melanin in your skin are low, and it’s not your fault that we’re, you know, a woman with the predisposition to have a soft tummy. It’s not your fault that I don’t enjoy working out for the sake of shaping you into what society tells me you should look like. It’s not your fault that I can’t Photoshop, shave, pluck, tan, or sweat every perceived imperfection away. It’s not your fault that you exist to carry me through the journey of life and not just to look “hot.”
Thank you for warning me when I push myself to hard during a workout… for giving me the stitch in my side or cramp in my calf that reminds me to slow down. For using your eyelashes to keep sweat out of my eyes (regardless of whether or not they’re coated in mascara). I appreciate the strength in my legs and endurance of my feet– even after toe surgery last spring. Thank you for my small breasts, soft stomach, pale skin, and long nose. Thank you for enduring scores of tooth procedures and gum surgeries as we figure out what is going on with my crowned front tooth. You keep me alive and healthy, and there are no words with which to thank you adequately. Note to self: don’t do a darn thing unless it’s to take care of you, not to make you look a certain way.
I promise to wear sunscreen whenever I’m in the sun, because I’d rather cherish your pale skin than worry that I will one day scar you with cancer. I will do my best to treat you with respect and nourish you with foods that help you to do your job best– with the occasional pizza or chocolate bar, because everyone needs a little fun too. It will not always be easy, but I will continue to make peace with the parts of you that I feel do not fit with what’s considered “sexy” or “pretty,” because you do not exist to please society. On the list of things I want and need from you, “perfect bikini body” is not written. I do not need to tone my abs, tan my skin, shave my body, or do anything else to mold you into that shape. There is one thing I ask of you to become bikini ready:
Put on a bikini and get your butt down to the pool.
I’ve had people tell me that I’m “not allowed” to have body image issues because I’m tall and thin, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. No matter how well you do or don’t fit into the box of bikini body criteria, most of us still feel immense pressure to look our best for a day at the beach. I know that my weight and stature do not make me impervious to self-judgment and self-consciousness, and it is unfair to box others into the very boxes we are trying to break out of on our own.
When I’m at the beach, most of the time the last thing I’m thinking about when I see another woman in her bathing suit is how flat her stomach is or whether or not her thighs touch. Normally I’m thinking “wow her suit is cute,” or “she looks so much more confident than I feel.” In the same breath, I am my biggest critic and everyone else’s biggest fan. Who cares how perfectly you fit into the bikini body box? Boxing ourselves in is absolutely no fun. There is no singular “bikini body” that is most beautiful or most appropriate. A bikini body is a bikini body by sole fact that there is a bikini on that body at that particular moment. End of story.
Fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, body-shaming, or any other kind of shaming (whether self-inflicted or at the hands of others) is never okay. One hundred percent of the time, it is not okay. I don’t care if society says a woman is “too overweight” to wear a crop top or a woman is “too skinny” and therefore must be anorexic. No. Wear the damn crop top if you want to. Appreciate your body, even if you’re a woman whose body is built to have a thigh gap, regardless of whether you want it or not. It’s okay to find comfort in your own skin without writing down a list of changes. Do not let society police the vessel carrying you through life, just because it says that vessel should look a different way. Forget that.
It’s okay to feel beautiful, even if society tells you that you aren’t, because society is not as all-knowing as it can appear to be. It’s okay to wear a bikini if your stomach isn’t flat, if you have stretch marks on your hips, and if you’re glowingly pale like me. It’s okay if your body seems to fit more into society’s box than someone else’s, and it’s okay if it doesn’t. Break free of the box. Appreciate your body for the gifts of health and life that it provides you every day, no matter how much judgment it may take. Celebrate your body for what it is instead of punishing it for what it is not… and above all, don’t be afraid to wear your bikini. Society cannot tell you that you aren’t beautiful if you’re tuned in to the joys of your own life.
My aunt just sent me a bathing suit this week, and damn it all, I’m going to let myself feel gorgeous in it.
**No shape or color manipulation was applied to any of these images. The only technique I used was the pen tool to cut myself out of the background**